24 May 2009

An Eggselent Meal

I love eggs. I eat them most days. I've recently become aware that my love for them is the sort of love that sometimes steps over some of the marvelous qualities of familiar things.

Not too long ago I visited my neighbors' personal chicken ranch for this blog. At the time, the hens were still largely feeding on winter mash. Now, the spring grasses with their nutritious seeds have arisen and the bugs that chickens love to hunt are in full, late spring industry.

The chickens are ranging.

My neighbors have no roosters, so all of us on our short rural street are spared the noise and attitude that come with those obnoxious males. Since I live only two houses away, I am occasionally blessed with the light music of hens communicating with each other as they go about their daily foraging.

Stephanie is visiting and had hoped to try some of the eggs produced by my neighbors' chickens. She'd planned a meal surrounding those eggs which included chorizo sausages from the Tamarack Hollow Farm in Vermont and Utah-raised tomatoes purchased after her arrival. She also brought asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, Romaine lettuce, and wild morel mushrooms from the New York area, which she plans on using for a wild mushroom sauce that will smother some of my local sirloin steaks we will be having for dinner tomorrow. [Long pause] Where am I?

I called my neighbor, Tracy, to ask her if I might score four or so eggs.

"Only four?" she asked.

"Well, six would be perfect."

The next morning she dropped by with a full dozen, and told me that she had plenty if I needed more. The eggs represented the colors of the chicken rainbow, light chocolate, tan, light green/turquoise. In addition to their beauty, it has been well-documented that these genuine free-range eggs contain much more of vitamins D, E, A, beta-carotene, and Omega 3 fatty acids than commercially raised eggs. (What the USDA means by "free-range" and what ordinary people think are two different things.)

Steph prepared the tomato for roasting by quartering it and seasoning it with salt, fresh ground pepper, oregano, and freshly chopped parsley.

The eggs were beautiful with rich, orange yolks begging to be left soft. We complied.

The smell of the roasting spicy chorizo and sweet tomatoes quickly filled the kitchen and eventually drew Asher from The Computer Dungeon (basement), his nostrils twitching. The sausage would later confirm my growing suspicion that former vegetarians - such as the pig farmers at Tamarack - have a unique and sensitive way of producing meat.

It's quite a thing when you're able to leave foods with opposing natures together in a roasting pan and have them get along so nicely. We plated the meal and Stephanie, inspired, topped the eggs with some of the fats and juices from the chorizo-tomato together time.

I'm a simple guy who ordinarily throws a couple of eggs into my dedicated egg pan, turns them after 90 seconds or so, tops them with salt and pepper, and calls it finished. The egg solo is a standard during my solitary times. The genius in Stephanie's meal was in demonstrating the power of the mighty, work-a-day egg to serve as a mediator between the fiery, combative chorizo sausage and the sweet, tender tomato. All were honored in this excellent, nutritious, and tasty meal.

And thus the egg stood between, and with, both.

05 May 2009

Culinary Alchemy

When I was a little boy my grandmother taught me about alchemy although she might have gently whapped me with her ever-present handtowel for using such an uppity way of talking about what she did. Grandma simply took two wonderful things, her husband's honey and fresh butter, and made something new: Honeybutter. This new synthesis of the old theses of cow and bee became the morning spread used around her place. A small, bright bowl of it generally sat on her sunstruck kitchen table, parked in the middle as a centerpiece on the red and white checkered table cloth, a jolly sentinel.

I was recently exposed to another alchemical experience while travelling in the U.K. with Stephanie. She wanted to visit the Borough Market in London off Borough High St., and so we went.

The market was a festival of visual and olfactory stimuli. The aromas of cooking sausages, fish, and cheeses were like persistent, skilled barkers, drawing wanderers-by into nearby home stands and booths. I could write a separate post about the market itself. Toward the southwest area of the Stoney St. perimeter near Park St. we smelled the glorious fusion of onion and cheese, cooking.

I've never processed anything quite like the aroma that eventually helped sell us the sandwich. The owner of Kappacasein Toasted Cheese Sandwiches & Raclette, Bill Oglethorpe, was happy to share his recipe: Gorgeous dark French sourdough made especially for their sandwiches, a local hardish cheddar made by the Montomerys of Somerset, a chopped combination of onions, leeks, mustard greens, garlic, all of this finished off with a good pressing.

Bill went into some of the nuances of his particular components, the particular acidity of the bread, the extra maturing of the cheese he purchased, the local acquisition of the vegetables, etc. He directed us the hundred or so yards down Park St. to the manufacturer of his cheese. Taking one of his sandwiches, off we went.

The informed and friendly man selling the cheese we were eating in the sandwich told us that his cheddar is aged for two years. He gave us samples and ended up making a sale as Stephanie picked up a substantial wedge. We picked up some nice apples to go with at least a portion of the cheese later.

Stephanie and I finished our sandwiches and talked about the experience off and on for the next several days as we nibbled at the Montgomery cheese, polishing off the apples in Freefolk, Hampshire. It was simply, at the risk of sounding trite and too romantic, the best cheese sandwich I've ever had. The combination of the cheese, bread, and vegetables was fused by the pressing process into a New Thing, and it was glorious. We later learned that Ruth Reichl had crowned Oglethorpe's product the "Platonic ideal" of a cheese sandwich.

Was this a complex interaction of acids, bases, savory cheese, and vegetable sugars, or was it something more simple? Maybe the miracle in this new thesis, the epitome of "cheese sandwich," was in its simplicity. Stephanie and I talked about trying to duplicate the sandwich someday. By the time we finished our trip we still had a little cheese and decided to see if we could get home with it.

A long plane trip, short bus ride, and minor subway adventure later, we were back in Lower Manhattan. As I completed my final packing at Stephanie's house, she did something quite marvelous. She was very tired, but went out, purchased some ingredients, took the last of our Montgomery cheddar, chopped up some aromatic and appropriate vegetables, added a dose or two of love, and made us a meal of sausages and pressed cheese sandwiches. I don't have any photos to share here. I did take some with my mind.

That was twenty-four hours ago. I've since wandered back to Utah from where I am typing this. But the effects of the last ingredient persist. This is particularly interesting, because my first experience with culinary alchemy took that ingredient for granted. I shall try not to make that mistake again.